(Please welcome back John Dean to the FDL Book Salon who is here to discuss his book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches. It’s also his birthday — jh)
In 2002, in Worse Than Watergate, Dean explored the Bush Administration’s penchant for secrecy for secrecy’s sake. In 2006, in Conservatives Without Conscience, he wrote about the Republican party’s drift into right-wing extremism, steeped in authoritarianism.
Now, with a little more than a year left in the current Administration, Dean focuses a wide-angle lens on the state of our government, contending that President Bush and the Republican Party have mangled it to the point that it no longer serves the American people.
Dean is not without hope–he lays out a plan for how the next administration can fix the mess. However, he also ends this book with a warning: Since the Republicans have veered dangerously off-course, only the Democrats can be trusted to repair the damage done.
Dean argues that the Republicans have made a wreck of all three branches of government–Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary. His focus is not on Republican policies of the last seven years, but rather on how Republicans have neglected, or mangled beyond recognition, the lawful and legitimate processes built into our Constitution and laws.
Compromised processes, Dean argues, inexorably lead to bad policy.
Dean assails Congress for its virtual total neglect of a process that is at the heart of the doctrine of the separation of powers–oversight of the Executive branch. In addition, he faults Congress for ignoring the reports of its own General Accountability Office (GAO), condoning the White House’s insistence on secrecy, and tolerating (and outright supporting, in some cases) Bush Administration policies that have given us Iraq and a host of supposed “anti-terrorism” measures that reject the basic principles not only of our Constitution, but those of international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
In addition, Dean faults the Republicans and their authoritarian tactics for seeing to it that Congress doesn’t get much done. (Dean believes, however, that the atmosphere is more bipartisan since the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections.)
Dean is not without hope: Our government can be fixed, but, at this point in time, only by a Democratic administration. He believes, as he wrote in Without Conscience, that the core of today’s Republican Party is authoritarian in character, and dedicated to making big corporations richer through the creation of bigger and more government. In this sense, the Party has utterly betrayed its traditional Republican small-government ideals.
Dean is quick to point out that we don’t need government reform to fix broken government; we just need to have people in power who are willing to play by the rules. Having laid out how Republicans don’t “play fair” with the processes of government, using their own processes to benefit themselves and special interests, Dean argues that we must insist that government run the way it is supposed to.
Congressional representatives are supposed to act for the good of their constituents, not their parties. There are rules for how proposed legislation is supposed to make its way through committees, and to votes. The President is the President of all the people and he (or she) is supposed to uphold the laws and Constitution, not become a potentate who rules in secret and flouts the laws with signing statements meant to make them merely optional.
Federal judges are supposed to decide constitutional issues and interpret the law. Thus, judges who march in lock-step under any ideological banner are anathema to the principle of the judiciary as a constitutionally co-equal branch of government. A judiciary captured by the Executive’s party, and acting in disregard of the law, is simply a branch of the White House.
Dean states what anyone who listens to the Republican candidates’ debates already knows: Every current Republican candidate (except Libertarian Ron Paul) would, if elected, continue down the path of Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II and appoint judicial fundamentalists who will, in fact, legislate from the bench (the very sin Republicans accuse Democratic-appointed judges of committing). These jurists will shape the law to benefit special interests and diminish individual rights.
(Elaine Cassel writes for Findlaw)